The Feminine Healing Spirit of New Orleans: Reflections Ten Years After the Waters of Katrina

Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Homelessness, WomenOf those families who left after Hurricane Katrina, many single mothers were unable to return to New Orleans in the years after the storm because their children were enrolled in schools of evacuation locations nationwide. Those returning met barriers in the form of limited space in local schools and much higher-priced rental units. 

New Orleans is thick with divine feminine spirit energy and a place where we, as healing women* and people of the diaspora, came heart to heart with our ancestors. An entity of power, and city of smoke and water, her music and laughter is an ancient call and response. The dead walk, sing, and cry alongside the living.

Women were deeply impacted by the Great Flood, and that is still an issue a decade since the waters receded. Women’s crisis shelters in the area were, and still are, unwilling to accept mothers with children. According to the city’s plan to end homelessness, an average night sees 204 families with children homeless. This does not appear to account for families who couch surf with friends and family, not to mention the historic under-counting that cities do of their homeless population. Of those families who left during the Great Flood, many single mothers were unable to return to New Orleans in the years after the storm because their children were enrolled in schools of evacuation locations nationwide. Those returning met barriers in the form of limited space in local schools and much higher-priced rental units. Women stretching budgets to pay astronomical rents were overlooked by landlords of multiple bedroom units in favor of groups of young professionals willing to co-habitate as roommates. Certain neighborhoods were “coming up,” and race and class lines began to be drawn in the neutral grounds of this city of working poor/spirit rich descendants of Africa.

We tapped this energy when co-creating Spirit House, a play based on gender discrimination in housing after Hurricane Katrina, commissioned by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC). The Great Flood flung doors of dispossession wide open for folks who have held down the city’s spirit for generations.

The personal is always political for Black and Indigenous peoples on American soil, and because it is common for women of color to fill in the communal gaps when the government can’t or won’t assist, the ritual and collective work of Black women has held much power and influence in the continued evolution of New Orleans. It is with this communal spirit network that spaces are created for living and cultivating productive programs that sustain healthy community.

Rising from the ashes is magical, but a necessary trick for the women of New Orleans. Here are some tangible ways women in New Orleans are working their magic:

Ashe Cultural Center is a powerhouse of community support co-founded and grounded by Carol Bebelle. Grassroots networking and creation is centered in the Ashe family including cultural education programs for children and adults, health promotion through  Sistahs Making a Change, and the Annual MAAFA healing ceremony honoring our ancestors.

Women With A Vision, Inc.  (WWAV) is a community-based non-profit, founded by a grassroots collective of African-American women in response to the spread of HIV/AIDS in communities of color. According to the Red Pump Project, HIV is the leading cause of death for Black women aged 25–34, and the rate of AIDS diagnosis for Black women was approximately 23 times the rate for white women and 4 times the rate for Latina women. Grounded by Deon Haywood, WWAV is a social justice non-profit that focuses on such issues as Sex Worker Rights, Drug Policy Reform, HIV Positive Women’s Advocacy, Transwomen’s health, and Reproductive Justice outreach.

The Birthmark Doula Collective: a group of trained doulas dedicated to support, educate, and advocate for pregnant and parenting women in New Orleans. A 2013 study showed that low-income doula-assisted mothers were four times less likely to give birth to a low birth weight baby. Through their “One-to-One” program, Birthmark offers birth doula services free of charge to women who could not otherwise afford a doula.

For those of us with the honor of holding space for individuals who were directly impacted by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, our spiritually means being At One with the evolutionary process of healing. To be At One means accepting that we create the wholeness and vastness of our universe, that we have the power to reimagine our future.  As spirit filled apprentices of the journey what we know for sure is that, for many, Katrina was the beginning of an end to ways of navigating spirit on a fear based level. Ten years after The Waters, this is where we, the lovers of the land, people, culture, and sacred energy that is New Orleans and daughters of the divine feminine, will insert our truth. We will create what others cannot envision.

*Women, to us, includes all who self identify as such, including trans, cis, and genderqueer femme beings.

Lakeesha Harris is a Health Educator at Chicago Women’s Health Center, a Reiki Master, Root Worker, Diviner and Operator of Sojourner’s Healing Room, a mobile healing space for the oppressed bodied beings of color. In her spare time she can be found talking to the plant life in her garden on the west side of Chicago or providing radical healing conversations on Black Witch Chronicles. For more info check her website or log onto Follow on Twitter @SojournerHeals

Geryll “Dr. G. Love” Robinson is a Diviner, Elemental/Shamanic Practitioner, Reiki Master, Naprapath, Poet, Playwright, Goddess at Large, and Katrina Survivor.  She has been published and performed and appreciated enough over the past 25 years to make her feel her voice is being heard. Please check out her website, a healing portal grounded in New Orleans since 2003. For more co-creative evolutionary magic with Lakeesha Harris, tune into Follow on Twitter @DrGLove1.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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